PESHAWAR: A Christian priest was shot dead and another wounded on Sunday when unidentified attackers fired on their vehicle near Jamil Chowk on Peshawar’s Ring Road.

The victim, Kohati gate-resident William Siraj, was a retired schoolteacher and priest at a church in the Chamkani area.

According to the police, he and another padre Naeem Patrick were making their way back after Sunday service when the Suzuki Bolan van they were travelling in was shot at near Madina Market. A third passenger, identified as Inayat, remained unhurt.

The injured were rushed to Lady Reading Hospital. Hospital spokesperson Muh­­a­m­mad Asim told Dawn that Siraj was already dead on arrival, while Mr Patrick had sustained minor injuries.

Gulbahar police said that a search operation had been launched in the area to arr­est the attackers and a murder case had been registered against the unidentified assailants.

Peshawar police chief Abbas Ahsan told reporters that the investigation into the incident was being carried out by officials from the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) as well as investigators from the local police station.

The inspector general said that two teams of experts had been formed to probe the incident, adding that police were determined to ensure the protection of all minorities in the province.

All Saints Church Vicar Shahzad Murad told Dawn that Mr Patrick’s condition was stable, but Inayat was in a state of shock. According to him, Mr Patrick told police the attackers were on a motorbike and opened fire on their van at close range before fleeing.

Following the incident, several members of the Christian community, including Bishop of the Diocese of Peshawar Humphrey Sarfaraz Peter, provincial minister Kamran Bangash and police chief Moazzam Jah Ansari visited the Chamkani church to condole with the victims’ families.

The attack also sparked a protest and members of the Christian community blocked the Ring Road in protest, demanding justice for the murdered man.

Mr Murad told Dawn that the victim was a retired teacher from the University Public School and was currently serving as a priest at the church in Chamkani.

“It was targeted attack. The victim had no personal enmity,” he said, demanding the swift capture of the attackers.

He said that terrorism had taken the lives of thousands of people, including military and police personnel, over the past several years, adding that it was time to demonstrate national unity and stand against anti-state elements.

Christian elders who had gathered at the Lady Reading Hospital termed this the first-ever direct attack on priests in the provincial metropolis.

Recalling the tragic events of 2013, when one of Peshawar’s most famous churches – the All Saints Church – was targeted in a twin suicide bombing, the elders demanded the provincial government compensate the families of the priests. At least 78 people were killed in the 2013 attack on the Sunday congregation at the Anglican church in Kohati Gate.

In a separate statement issued on Sunday, minority lawmaker Ravi Kumar condemned the attack and vowed that the provincial government would make all possible efforts to arrest those involved in this crime.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has seen a surge of militant attacks in recent days, many of which were claimed by the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, January 31st, 2022

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